“不到长城非好汉” – “He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man.”
The great wall of China is one of the the most impressive ancient wonders in the world and it is an ancient wonder that is still standing today. Almost everybody has heard of the great wall of China and the breathtaking size of the wall with a common claim that it is the only structure built by humans that can be seen from space.
While the claim about seeing the great wall from space may not be true, what is true is that the sheer scale of the great wall has to be seen to be believed, words do not do it justice. The great wall of China was high on my bucket list and I had high hopes for what the experience of climbing the great wall would be like and the great wall surpassed all my expectations.
Before I arrived in Beijing I had researched tours to the great wall and read a lot of information about the best sections of the wall to go to. From reading reviews and researching information, I learnt the below:
1. Don’t go on tours that involved shopping or other sites because you would spend the entire time shopping and only get 1 hour at the wall.
2. Don’t go to the section of the wall closest to Beijing at Badaling because it’s full of tourists and people selling items so is very busy, hard to walk on and loses the experience with sellers stalls set up all over the wall.
I was staying in a really great hostel in Beijing that offered tours and I chose the no shopping tour going to the Great Wall of China Mutianyu section which is further outside of Beijing. The no shopping tour was more expensive because instead of spending time in shops and an hour at the wall closest to the city, you go straight to a section of the wall further outside of Beijing and spend 4 hours there.
The tour bus picked me up very early in the morning from my hostel and after driving around Beijing to pick up the other tour group members we headed to the Great Wall. The drive was about 2 hours however it very early in the morning so I slept for most of the journey.
We arrived at the wall and were told we had about 4 hours to spend there and some information about the section of the wall and the history. From the bottom entrance to the top of the hill would be almost an hour walk which would limit the time spend on the wall and would mean 2 hours walking up a hill so everyone in the group got chairlift tickets to save time and take us up to the top of hill to go onto the wall.
When I first stepped foot on the wall I was instantly blown away as even in my imagination and images I had seen of the great wall it did not appear to be as big as it was in real life. The great wall stretches further than the eye can see in both directions. I looked at the map and decided to walk to the old part of the wall first, the old part of the wall has not been reconstructed or made available for people to walk on. I was close to this part of the wall so that seemed easy enough to walk to first and then I would have been to at least one end of that part of the wall.
The wall has guard towers every 100-200 metres so I began my walk along the wall by walking to the first guard tower on the direction of the old part of the wall. The wall is so wide and the guard towers are so big that you can’t see anything except the guard tower as you get close to it. At parts it looks like you have reached the end of the wall as you approach the guard tower and then as you exit out the other side of the guard tower you can see the wall continue across the mountains over the horizon.
The old part of the wall is in ruins and has been left for so long it has trees growing on it, you can really see how much restoration work has been done on the wall when you compare the old part of the wall with the restored sections. You can’t go walk on the sections that haven’t been restored so I walked back in the other direction along the wall.
You can walk to as far as you can see in the distance on the wall and when you arrive and look into the distance the wall still doesn’t end. It really is incredible to see how far the wall stretches across the landscape of China.
Climbing the great wall of China was always something I wanted to do in my life and I imagine it is a common bucket list item that a lot of people want to do at some point in their life. It exceeded my expectations and it was an experience I will never forget. I urge anyone going to China to do it and I believe the non-shopping tours of some of the less crowded and touristy parts of the wall like Mutianyu are the best way to experience the Great Wall of China.